A Blue Ridge Parkway experience is unlike any other, a slow-paced and relaxing drive on two-lane roads revealing stunning long-range vistas and close-up views of the rugged mountains and pastoral landscapes of the Appalachian Highlands. Protecting a diversity of plants and animals, the Parkway meanders for 469 miles, just over half of which is in North Carolina. Each successive mile provides opportunities for enjoying all that makes this region of the country so special.
On various pages within my North Carolina section, I plan to write Tips for some of the top sites near the Parkway.
Milepost 291 puts you very near Boone and an opportunity to do a bit of flying along your way. Screaming Ziplines will put you above it all (almost). Whiz through the air at 50 miles per hour at Screaming Ziplines. This company offers canopy tours that allow you to fly over grazing cows and horses in a wooded area between the Parkway and Boone. As I write this, they are closed for the season but will hopefully reopen by June 1st and remain open through Labor Day. (I say "hopefully" because the business is currently for sale, so if you are an entrepreneur looking to get into an adventure business, this could well be your chance. Contact information is below.) There are currently three tour options: The Original Tour ($69) of 6 ziplines with the last zipline over three football fields long and the Extreme Tour ($79) which is 6 ziplines including the infamous Triple Wide 2000 foot long ziplines! What I am calling the third is a new innovation for them this past summer: night tours for just $10 more than the day tours. (The preceding prices were for this past summer. They are, of course, subject to change.
One more tip for potential purchasers: It seems to me that with Appalachian State University just a couple miles away extending the season into the fall would be something well worthy of investigating.
You can go to the Half-Hippie produce farm and get a tour of the homestead (built in 1836!), pet baby bunnies, pick whatever veggies that are seasonally available, and peruse crafts that the owners have personally made in their wood shop. It is really easy access (about 10 minutes from Boone) and the owners are very friendly.
Tweetsie Railroad is a Wild West Theme Park. No big roller coasters here - but it makes for a fun family day.
Take the Tweetsie Railroad - with its Wild West show - around the park. Ride the Free Fall, Tornado, Tilt-a-Whirl, Ferris Wheel, etc. There are lots of rides for smaller children as well (boats, merry-go-round, etc.). Take the chair lift up to Miner's Mountain where you can pan for gold and feed the deer in Deer Park (my favorite).
There's live entertainment as well: Saloon Show with Can Can Girls, Clogging Show, and children's musicals/shows.
There are several places to eat from the Cowboy Cantina to Funnel Factory and Fudge Works. Shopping places include the Western Mercantile, General Store, and Sign and Glass Shop. Round up the family at Jamie Leigh's Photo Parlor where you can dress up as your favorite western character and have a custom family photo. A fun souvenir of your day.
See the website for a full listing of rides, entertainment, restaurants, and shops.
Fireworks Extravaganza and the Ghost Train® Halloween Festival held annually.
Check the website for schedule and pricing, and special offers.
This is a must go attraction for families. Mystery Hill turned out to be a great edutainment center. However, the most amusing piece was the ”Crooked House”. There was something very mysterious about this house. We experienced such a magnetic pull that my husband and I really felt dizzy. I could not even enter the house. My son played with the ball rolling uphill and then got pulled from his upright position to standing at 45 degrees so much so that he became a bit dizzy too. I had to take him out in the fresh air. There were many other hands on experiments for families to explore the relationship of science, optical illusion and natural phenomena.
Mystery Hill is open from 9 am to 8 pm all year round. The tickets are economical at US$8 for adult and US$ 6 for children under 13. These tickets also cover the cost of neighbouring Appalachian Heritage Museum and a Native American Artifacts Museum.
This is the 2nd attraction covered within Mystery Hill Entrance Tickets.
We went to the neighbouring Appalachian Heritage Museum after visiting the Mystery Hill. The Dougherty House, which was built in 1903 by brothers D.D. and B.B. Dougherty, the founders of Appalachian State University, houses the Museum on the 1st floor. It was the first home in Watauga County to have electricity and running water. It contains turn-of-the-century antiques and information about the Dougherty family and reflects how middle-class mountain families lived in the late 1800s to early 1900s.
Check out the website below for links to all of the NC ski mountains. The ones that are near enough to use Boone as a hub are, Beech Mountain, Sugar Mountain and Appalachian Ski Mountain. Believe it or not, I have never been downhill skiing but after my adventures in cross-country skiing up in Grafton, NY I can tell you it's on the list of things to do soon.
The best place to observe native birds turned out to be the restaurant at the Museum and the Nature Center.
The Restaurant has a patio on its backside with lots of bird feeders and Humming bird feeders hanging in quite a charming arrangement. The birds seemed to be quite friendly and would let us come close to them. One of the birds (photo 1) even let a guide touch it. A Blue Jay made a daring attempt to reach a feeder (photo # 4), while humming brids were flying in and out (photo # 3). We also saw a doe feeding its fawn (photo # 2). Common (aka Northern) Ravens were flying high over the peaks and came closer to us on rocks behind the mile-high swinging bridge, probably trying to do some humanlife studies, as well as in a display of show off and acting like hawks and falcons, diving into the valleys below.
Although many VTers have described the majesty and thrill of the mile-high swinging bridge, and I am attempting to do the same, no description can truly capture and do any justice with the real experience of being there. The crossing of the bridge is an adventure in itself and many tourists simply did not cross it. On the other hand, many visitors were adventurous enough to continue walking to the rocky outcrops (the safer ones) (photo # 1). And there were some daredevils like Ifrah who perched themselves on rocky outcrops looking down into the valleys (photo # 4).
From here, one can have beautiful views of the forested hills and of the city of Linville down below on one hand and of the two other peaks of Grandfather Mountain high above on the other.
Grandfather Mountain is proven most popular tourist attraction of North Carolina and when we explored it we could see why that would be. It is recognized by the UN as an International Biosphere Reserve. Some other destinations that we have visited and are listed on the same list are Niagara Escarpment in Ontario, Canada and Lal Suhanra National Park in Punjab, Pakistan.
Grandfather Mountain is a habitat for 12 rare and endangered animals, reptiles and insects and 30 rare and endangered plants. The Virginia Big-eared Bat, the Carlolina Northern Flying Squirrel, the Spruce Fir Moss Spider, Heller's Blazing Star, Blue Ridge Goldenrod, and Bent Avens are considered "critically imperiled globally because of extreme rarity".
Once we entered the Mountain, our first stop was at a spot of two gigantic rocks, one of them named Split Rock for the obvious reason shown in one of the pictures.
Our 2nd stop in the Grandfather Mountain was at Wildlife Habitats and the Nature Museum. These are two great places to begin exploration from. There are guided tours at set intervals built around the time when the animals get a healthy nourishment. The Wildlife Habitats keeps few birds and animals that are native to the Mountain. We heard the same debate about Pumas (Cougars or mountain lions) going on in Appalachian region that we heard back home in Ontario - whether there are any wild mountain lions in the eastern USA. The consensus is that they could be reclaiming their lost habitat, but at this time the evidence is too unconvincing.
This is a must visit to get information not only about Grandfather Mountain, but also about the High Country in general.
The Nature Museum showcases gems, rocks, and wildlife found around the area, as well as an exhibit on life of Daniel Boone, the famous pioneer and adventurer. Outside in the lounge, there was an exhibition of the wildlife photographs with hilarious captions, such as a caption for a photograph of an otter read 'Otterly hilarious'.
We visited the Daniel Boone Native Gardens one fine evening. The start was not all that encouraging. The entrance to Horn in the West Drive, where the gardens are located, from Highway 105 was quite hidden and we kept missing it. However, once found, the Garden did not disappoint us.
The gardens feature a collection of North Carolina native plant material in an informal landscape design. We saw the Wrought Iron Gates made by Daniel Boone VI, a direct descendant of the great pioneer Daniel Boone. We also observed a bog garden, fern garden, rhododendron grove, rock garden, rock wishing well, vine-covered arbor, pond alongside the historic Squire Boone Cabin, etc.
After visiting the Wildlife Habitats and the Nature Museum, we drove towards the famous mile-high swinging bridge. However, after driving a little distance on the road we found signs saying parking area for hiking to the mountain peak. We parked our car at that lot and decided to hike towards the peak.
It was a steep climb, but was not difficult as the path was well maintained (photo 3 and 4). Every now and then, we would see a group of deer giving us a good look and then disappearing in the woods. Just like trees in Bruce Peninsula National Park and the Fathom Five National Marine Park back in Ontario that we hiked in July, we found trees with their roots on the surface trying to get a hold of anything they could find (photo # 2). All of us had lots of admiration for trees trying to make their stand in this way. Wildflowers were blooming prolifically, some hanging to the most fragile of soils (photo # 5). The hike took us right under the mile-high bridge, where we took a little breather (photo 1). The path finally ended at the corner of the souvenir shop by the steps leading to the bridge.
The hikers should note that there are a number of trails that either go over the ridges (most difficult) or deep into the woods (moderately difficult).
We had our minor share of struggles during 5 hours of canoeing and kayaking, for example, when a low bridge came over us. By this time, dad had switched his canoe position with Rayyan’s kayak. He waited for the two of us to cross the bridge through land, while he holds the canoe and sails on his kayak under the bridge. However, in a small chaotic moment, I lost my pedal and dad did his too. So dad decided to let us handle the canoe, while he rushed for the pedals that were fast flowing out of our view. Rayyan and I re-strategized and decided to lift the canoe to the other side. Dad pedaled back with all the lost items recovered. He later told us that he had to use his hands to pedal the kayak to get to the freely floating gear. He must have then put an extraordinary effort to meet back with us upstream.
Everything was going well afterwards and we were thinking that we had successfully overcome the only real challenge we had during this adventure when lo and behold there came another low bridge. This was even lower than the 1st one we had encountered. The river had gotten some speed here and we remained in a fix as to what to do. The options we had during the 1st bridge were no longer available here. A man watched our ordeal from his home by the riverside and came over to help. We crossed this bridge with his help.
Overall, it was a fun and adventure packed canoeing and kayaking trip.
For a canoeing trip on New River, we, that is, dad, Rayyan and I (mom opted out of the adventure with plans to do some serious shopping in Boone) availed the services of Wahoo’s Adventures. We rented out a canoe and a sit-on kayak from them and then drove 15 kms on a narrow winding Highway 194 north through the hills into the area of Todd to their New River location. A young guide by the name of Lee Mason met us here. We parked our car and then were driven by Lee upstream to a location to enable us pedal for 5 hours back to where our car was originally parked.
It was, of course, Rayyan, who jumped on the kayak. Dad and I took the canoe. The River was slow and shallow, the maximum depth being my vest. It was lots of fun. Every now and then the river would run the effects of a rapid that would bring additional excitement. We took many pictures of the scenery, of ourselves, and some waterfowl. In our effort to observe waterfowl and take pictures, we crashed into the bushes on the riverbank only to find spiders crawling all over the canoe.